ITGS Syllabus

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Topic 108

Faulty or hidden assumptions by Romeo Wu

An error is very hard to correct if we don't suspect there was a mistake. Often we make an incorrect assumption without realizing we made it, and then draw other false conclusions based on this false assumption. One area where this happens frequently is in finding errors in computer programs.

An assumption that we probably all make sometimes is that what we read in the newspaper or see on television news is true. Sometimes newspaper or television will mass reproduce the news that is untrue which is known as the propaganda. For example in my country, the political is divided into two parties Nationalist Party and Democratic Party.

Since the nationalist party trying to suppress the other parties they would use the newspapers, televisions to produce fake information. Some people would make believe the information and make false assumptions since most of the media is presenting the information although the information is not true. It probably never occurred to most people at the time that this fact was in doubt. Unfortunately this was an assumption that had practical repercussions for most of us. Magicians deliberately make use of people's assumptions to make their tricks impressive.

One of the most impressive trick I could ever remember is when a magician asks to see someone's watch, holds it up by the strap, and announces "it now says the correct time, 8:10 PM", and then hands it back to the owner. After doing some deep mental concentration, he announces that he has made the hands move forward. He asks the owner to read the time, which now says 9:30 PM.

What happened? Actually the magician spun the hands forward before holding it up and announcing the time. Almost everyone in the audience assumes that the time read out loud by the magician was correct, and so they are mystified because there was no opportunity for the magician to influence the watch after the announcement. It is nearly impossible to avoid making assumptions which may occasionally be wrong. Our brain has to constantly make assumptions if we are going to respond to what is going on around us in a timely manner, and, of course, most of the assumptions are right. We should be aware, however, that we will occasionally be fooled, and we should be careful for those occasions.


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